Fulton County Board of Elections officials are warning that the county’s low rate of COVID-19 vaccination may make it more difficult to recruit election inspectors for the November elections.
The board of elections issued an Aug. 5 news release describing the recruitment problem, and the county’s recruitment campaign to counteract it, including a three-part plan asking all election inspectors, whether vaccinated or not, to agree to wear masks, for local high school principals to recruit high school students to serve as paid inspectors, and for the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to increase the rate of pay for the inspectors.
“The Board reports that it had lost many inspectors for three reasons: older inspectors are retiring, many [inspectors] are fearful of working side-by-side with unvaccinated co-workers, and the stipend is currently below minimum wage,” reads the news release.
The board’s decision to ask election inspectors to wear masks is in line with an announcement from the Fulton County Department of Public Health on Monday, which stated the more-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has begun to spread through Fulton County and that all county residents, whether vaccinated or not, should return to wearing masks during indoor gatherings. The announcement occurred after the Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting, during which few participants were masked.
Democratic Election Commissioner Jerry Ryan on Thursday said the county was only able to recruit about 150 of the needed 160 election inspectors for the June 22 political party primary election. He said Fulton County has 40 election precincts and each is supposed to be staffed with four inspectors on political primary and general election days, two each representing the two major political parties – Republican and Democrat.
Ryan said Fulton County was forced to staff some polling precincts with only three election inspectors on June 22. He said he wasn’t sure which three precincts had fewer inspectors, but he believes it was the more sparsely populated rural precincts.
“The inspectors can be from anywhere in the county, but usually they are assigned to locations closer to where they live,” he said. “I don’t think people really do it for the money, they do it because they are patriots, and they’re trying to do the right thing to help their community, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep people on, because the average age of our inspectors is [that of a senior citizen] and they’re just not choosing to stay on. And we’re getting a lot of pushback from people regarding whether people will wear masks or not.”
As of Thursday, Fulton County still ranks at the bottom of the mostly rural Mohawk Valley Region with only 45.3% of county residents (24,266 out of 53,591 people) having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
These are how the other Mohawk Valley counties rank:
• Montgomery — 57.5% vaccinated, 28,435 people with 1 dose
• Otsego — 56.5% vaccinated, 33,744 people with 1 dose
• Oneida — 54.1% vaccinated, 124,198 people with 1 dose
• Schoharie — 51% vaccinated, 15,856 people with 1 dose
• Herkimer — 49% vaccinated, 30,282 people with 1 dose
On Monday the Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted 17-0 to increase the pay rate for election inspectors, the first pay bump they’ve received since 2019.
Ryan said the increase generally equates to a new hourly rate of approximately $16 per hour.
This is the new pay rate schedule:
General Election Day 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. — $256, old rate $200
Primary Election Day 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. — $256, old rate $200
Village Election Day 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. — $160, old rate $125
Early Voting Day for 8 hours — $144, old rate $100
Early Voting Day for 5 hours — $96, old rate $75
Inspector School — $32, old rate $25
Inspector School Election Day — $25, old rate N/A
Election Day Chairperson — $25, old rate $25
During Monday’s Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting the board also approved receiving a $17,731 NYS Board of Elections Early Voting Expansion Grant, which provides the funding for the advertising campaign to recruit election inspectors and some of the funds used to pay them to work the county’s early voting hours.
Ryan said Fulton County was able to maintain the needed inspectors for all of the early voting days prior to the June 22 primary, in part because the county only had one early voting location at the Gloversville senior center. In the 2020 general election, Fulton County held early voting at the Board of Elections on Route 29 behind the sheriff’s office, but New York state has since reformed election law to require at least one polling station inside a county’s most populated municipality.
Ryan said he’s hopeful the county’s efforts will ensure a full complement of inspectors is available for the Nov. 2 general election.
“State law, since the 1890s, has required elections to be co-administered by Republicans and Democrats, which is harder for the Democrats in Fulton County because we’re at a 2-1 registration disadvantage to the Republicans,” Ryan said. “I think the advertising is helping though, we’re getting calls from people interested.”
The board of elections asks anyone interested in serving as an election inspector this fall to call their office at 518-726-5526.